The Referendum In The Crimea and The Great Betrayal
On Sunday 16th March 2014 a referendum will be held in the Crimea to determine whether the people of that country will stay in the Ukraine or opt to be part of the Russian Federation. This is a positive development and I have little doubt that they will vote to be part of Russia and thereby attempt to right the wrongs of 1954.
This was the year that they were handed over, rather like cattle, to the Ukraine by an over-generous and rather exciteable Russian Soviet President Nikita Kruschev who could not possibly have conceived what the future would hold 60 years later and who could not possibly have envisaged what a threat this single act of kindness and generosity would eventually constitute to the fortunes, welfare and security of the Russian state.
One of the things that needs to be clearly understood right from the outset about the unfolding crisis in the Ukraine is that as far as the majority of the people in the Crimea are concerned and as far as President Vladimer Putin and the government of the Russian Federation is concerned the new regime in the Ukraine came to power by unconstitutional means and is therefore illegitimate and illegal. Rightly or wrongly these are their views and their concerns.
They also have grave fears for the safety, security and welfare of the Russian-speaking population who actually live in the Crimea and who constitute the majority of people that are resident there. Given the history of the area and the nature of those that now hold the reigns of power in Kiev, these concerns cannot be easily dismissed or wished away even by the most cynical of commentators.
I believe that those concerns are very real and that they are perfectly legitimate. In any case the Russians are not the only ones that harbour these fears. Just a few days ago American Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, a man whose views are highly respected and who is noted for his ability to speak nothing but the bitter truth, told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly some interesting things.
Permit me to share the contents of their discussion here as it was reported in Intellihub.com, an American website magazine. They wrote-
''Tuesday evening while speaking to Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, dropped information on the situation in the Ukraine that is rarely heard in the mainstream media. In the interview, Kucinich revealed that the United States government was guilty of funding some of the violent rebel groups who have overrun the Ukraine. When asked how he would handle the crisis if he were President, Kucinich replied by saying that:
''What I'd do is not have USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy working with U.S. taxpayers' money to knock off an elected government in Ukraine, which is what they did. I wouldn't try to force the people of Ukraine into a deal with NATO against their interest or into a deal with the European Union, which is against their economic interest.”
O'Reilly replied by saying, ''so, it's the USA's fault that Putin rolled in? We made them do it?” to which Kucinich responded by saying, ''Bill O'Reilly, if you don't believe in cause and effect, I don't know what I can do for you.” - INTELLIHUB.COM
In my view Kucinich is absolutely right. He has spoken nothing but the truth and such subterranean manouverings and covert operations by the United States government and their agents right on the doorstep of a nervous Russia was bound to result in drastic and extreeme retaliatory measures from Vladimer Putin. This is all the more so given the fact that history, the law and logic is clearly on Putin's side.
I say this because claiming that the Crimea is not Russian is simply absurd and it betrays nothing but ignorance. It is rather like saying that the people of the city of Ilorin and it's environs in Kwara state and the people of Kabba, Yagba-West, Yagba-East, Mopa-Amuro, Ijumu and Kabba-Bunu local government areas in Kogi state respectively are not yoruba and that those areas are not part and parcel of yorubaland simply because they are in the northern part of Nigeria.
Historically the Crimea has always been part of Russia and no less than 65 per cent of it's population are not only ethnic Russians but they also speak nothing but the Russian language. There are also massive and substantial pockets of Russian populations in eastern Ukraine.
It is absolutely absurd for anyone to assume that the Russian Federation would sit by silently and allow the lives, the future, the fortunes and the destiny of their kinsmen from those parts to be in any way threatened.
Some have compared the situation in the Ukraine and the Crimea to the situation that exists between China and Taiwan. This is an inappropiate and erroneous comparison and those that equate the two are not sufficiently aware of the relevant facts.
The difference is that the people of Taiwan, though they are ethnic Chinese, do not want to be part of China but the people of the Crimea, who are ethnic Russians, want to be part of Russia desperately. That is the difference between the two.
It is simply a matter of the right to self-determination. They have that right and it is guaranteed by international law. Remember the Falklands matter between Great Britain and Argentina which led to war? That is a better comparison to this case than that of Taiwan and China. Great Britain did exactly what Russia is doing today in the Falklands in 1982.
They secured the rights of the people in the geographical space that was in dispute and they effected their wishes and will as was reflected in a free and fair referendum. In order to achieve this they went to war. I would have expected no less from Margaret Thatcher and the British.
Quite apart from the principle of self-determination there is also the principle of the right to safety, the right to freedom from persecution and, most important of all, the right to life. The truth is that the people of the Crimea have as much of a right to life as anyone else and as long as they remain in a Ukraine that is in the power and under the control of the pro-western, ultra-nationalist and essentially fascist forces, that right to life cannot be guaranteed.
The fact of the matter is that those that are presently in power in the Ukraine simply hate the Russians of the Crimea and we can be be rest assured that they will utterly destroy them, strip away their rights, humiliate them and subject them to the most vicious and insidious form of persecution if given half a chance. President Krushchev of the old Soviet Union made a grave error when he handed the Crimea and it's almost total Russian population over to the Ukraine in 1954.
He did so only because he never envisioned a situation whereby the old Soviet Union would break up and that the people of the Ukraine would fall under the sphere of influence of America and western Europe and end up being so hostile to ethnic Russians and to the Russian Federation. That situation is what Putin is faced with today and he has to rise up to the occasion and clean up the mess that was created in 1954.
He has to rectify that mistake by taking the Crimea back and protecting the lives and property of the ethnic Russians that live there. He must allay their fears and protect their interests because they are his kinsmen and they have no other nation to protect them apart from Russia. That is his right and duty and I am glad to see that he appears to be doing it.
This is all the more so given the fact that, by treaty and by international law, the Crimea is host to no less than 45,000 Russian soldiers and a massive Russian naval base. This naval base provides the only access that the Russian fleet has to a warm sea port anywhere in the world. Perhaps this is what informed the comments of Mr. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, when he told a British audience in London on 14th March 2014 that '" the Crimea is more important to Russia than the Falklands is to Great Britain".
Given this, anyone that seriously believes that the Russians would sit back and allow all that to be taken away from them by a hostile government in Kiev which is under the beautiful spell of the Americans has not understood the situation very well.
Whether anyone likes it or not the Crimea, and indeed much of southern and eastern Ukraine, is an area that touches and concerns the vital and strategic national and security interests of the Russian Federation. What goes on in that area and who controls it is of great interest to the Russians and this must be so for very obvious reasons. Excuse my crude language but you cannot piss on a giant's doorstep and expect him to be pleased with you.
This brings me to the issue of the question of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsular in Nigeria and the way in which the Camerounians pissed on our doorstep and eventually managed to take it from us. This was after a ruling at the International Court of Justice in 2002 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power. We lost that ruling and after that Bakasi was physically and formally handed over to the Camerounians by the Yar'adua administration in August 2008.
Our humiliating surrender and capitulation to Camerounian aggression took place after many decades of provocation and military incursions into the area by the Camerounian military and after many of our people were humiliated and slaughtered in the most brutal manner by them.
Yet this was not always so. Under the military government of General Sani Abacha things were very different and one of the few good things that he ever did as Head of State was to call the bluff of the French and the Camerounians over the Bakassi Peninsular.
He not only dared them but he also sent our troops, under the command of Brigadier-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, to secure our eastern boarders and to protect our territory from their reckless and open aggression. Force was poised to meet force and the Nigerian nation was mobilised for a full scale territorial war.
Lt. Colonel Isa Mohammed, as he then was, and the courageous officers under his command, did most of the fighting by actually throwing the Camerounian soldiers out of Bakassi and, in so doing, he did Nigeria proud. If ever a man deserved to be on the honours list of our nation it was Lt. Col. Isa Mohammed because his exploits during the Bakassi conflict when General Abacha was in power were extraordinary and simply legendary.
I am one of those that vehemently opposed General Abacha throughout his five years in power but I was happy to commend him for his noble and courageous stand on the Bakassi matter and the vigorous and aggressive action that he took at the time to protect our people and secure our boarders.
I did so in a celebrated essay that I wrote for the Guardian Newspaper all the way from Ghana in 1997 which was titled ''Masters Of Our Fate, Captains Of Our Souls''.
Many of my colleagues and friends in the opposition and NADECO, like the irrepressable Bashorun of Okemesi, Chief Akin Osuntokun, who is not only my friend and brother but also something of an intellectual soulmate, were shocked that I could have commended Abacha for anything given the fact that virtually every other single essay that I wrote for my weekly column and my numerous interventions in those turbulent years were vehemently opposed to him and his military government.
Yet I must confess that no Nigerian President ever made me feel prouder of my country than Abacha when he stood up to the bullying French and made it clear to the world that he was ready to go to full scale war with the Camerouns if they continued their incursions into Nigerian territory and if they did not pull out of the Bakassi Peninsular.
The French and their Camerounian puppets wisely complied with immediate effect and they did so on the advice of the Americans who convinced them that Abacha was not just bluffing but that he ''meant every word that he said''. This was a man that was more than happy to turn the whole of the west African sub-region into a cauldron of fire in order to defend the honour and dignity of our people, protect our territorial integrity and keep Nigeria one. In this respect Abacha was a leader that was second to none,
Only General Muhammadu Buhari showed a similar level of courage and strength when he drove the invading Chadians from our territory and boarders over ten years earlier in 1982, marched into Chad itself and was firmly on his way to laying siege to the Chadian capital Njadmena when he was ordered to stop and turn back by President Shehu Shagari.
As was reported at the time Buhari simply refused to stop his massive offensive and he blew away everything that stood in his way until he was deep into Chadian territory. He gave the Chadians a very bloody nose indeed and they certainly deserved it.
Those were the days when Nigeria had a strong military that we could be proud of and when we had commanding officers that were professional and disciplined and that could be relied on to engage the enemy forcefully and utterly crush them.
Those were the days when we had leaders that were not afraid of unleashing our military on any foreign power when we were sufficiently provoked. Permit me to share a little more about Buhari. My friend and brother the Kaakaki Nupe, Mr.Sam Nda Isaiah, once told me a very interesting story which is relevant here.
He said that General Buhari once told him that when he first became Head of State in 1983 and went through the file on Bakassi he knew that it would be impossible for Nigeri a to win the case in any international court of law simply because the area had been erroneously ceded to the Camerounians by a previous military Head of State a number of years earlier.
He said that his next move was to send troops to the Bakassi Peninsular to secure the place for Nigeria and to protect the Nigerian people that were living there. That is what a man of honour who truly loves his nation and people should have done and Buhari did it without batting an eyelid. What a man and what a leader.
Sadly today all that has changed and we do not have such men of honour in power. Instead we have a President that cannot even muster the strength and courage to fight the islamist sect known as Boko Haram or any of the other insurgent groups that are freely operating in our country and killing our people.
We no longer have men like the gallant Major Halilu Akilu (as he then was) who, under the orders of General Buhari in 1984, crushed the exceptionally vicious and fearsome Maitatsine islamist sect in Kano with ruthless precision and professional excellence. Those days of glory appear to have gone and sadly they will not return until we have a new and serious-minded government and President in power in our country.
Love him or hate him, the truth is that no Nigerian President displayed the same degree of patriotism, resolve and strength over the Bakassi Peninsular as General Sani Abacha did from 1993 to 1998 when he was in power.
Sadly on 10th October 2002, under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, we lost the Bakassi to the Camerouns under what were controversial and unacceptable circumstances and as a result of an absurd ruling of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
I have asked this question on numerous occasions and I am yet to receive a satisfactory answer so perhaps I will take this opportunity to ask it again. How can any responsible government proceed to the International Court of Justice over a territorial dispute with a neighbouring nation after the blood of it's citizens has been spilt over that land and whilst that government was still in full possesion of the disputed territory?
How can any government agree to subject themselves to the proceedings and ruling of an international court when the majority of the people in the disputed territory had consistently reaffirmed their desire to remain Nigerians and after they expressed their grave fears, concerns and strong opposition to being turned into Camerounians overnight?
Leaders and Presidents are meant to hold their territory and defend their people when provoked and not to give them up to their enemies and tormentors. That is why we have armies.
President Obasanjo's capitulation on the Bakassi issue and his decision to subject Nigeria to the jurisdiction and proceedings of the International Court of Justice was a grave error. It was also a classic betrayal because the people of the Bakassi Peninsular were abandoned and sacrificed by our government simply to curry favour with the western powers and the international community.
This single event was the greatest blot on the administration of President Obasanjo and I will not shy away from saying so even though I remain one of his greatest admirers, even though my love for him remains untainted and even though I had the privilege of serving in his government.
Jackie Mcgunn reflected the thinking and feelings of most Nigerians very well when she said ''I felt raped and violated when Nigeria handed over Bakassi to the Camerounians''. I felt the same way. President Obasanjo was not capable of doing what General Abacha had managed to do almost a decade earlier and it grieved my soul and the souls of millions of other Nigerians.
If Obasanjo had displayed half the courage, firm resolve and strong determination over the Bakassi Peninsular matter as President Vladimer Putin is doing over the Crimean crisis and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had done over the Falkland Islands dispute, the Bakassi Peninsular, and all it's people, would still have been part and parcel of Nigeria today.
Today the people of the Crimea want to be part of Russia and not the Ukraine just as, in 1982, the people of the Falkland Islands wanted to be part of Britain and not Argentina. In both of those territories the people exercised their right of self-determination and, because the people and governments of their respective countries not only respected that right and choice but also cherished it, they refused to abandon them, they stood by them and they made their dreams come true.
They ensured that the will of those people and their purpose were made manifest and, if needs be, they were prepared to go to war to effect it. That is how responsible governments are meant to behave. That is what they are meant to do. That is why Great Britain never abandoned the people of Northern Ireland and that is why India and Pakistan respectively never abandoned their respective people and territories in the disputed Kashmir region despite successive wars.
Sadly in Nigeria, under President Obasanjo, this was not the case. He turned his back on the wishes and yearnings of the people of the Bakassi Peninsular to continue to be part of Nigeria and he handed them over to the Camerounians on a platter of gold. I repeat that this was a great betrayal and, in my view, it was the greatest failing of the Obasanjo adminstration- an administration which I proudly served and which I have often defended.
If we had to go to war over Bakassi we ought to have done so knowing that our cause was just and our right to that territory was not only rooted in history and embedded in the wishes and aspirations of the people that lived there but was also legitimate and lawful.
A government that cannot protect it's own people from the foreign invader and that cannot secure it's own borders from external aggression deserves to be pitied- it is nothing but an object of shame, opprobium and ridicule. Each time I consider what we did in the Bakassi Peninsular, how we turned our backs on it's people and how we gave up what was part and parcel of our nation to the invading Camerounians without a good fight, I feel a deep sense of revulsion and shame.
This is one of the few aspects of President Obasanjo's record in public office that I simply find impossible to justify or defend. In this respect Obasanjo had much to learn from both Vladimer Putin and Margaret Thatcher. Meanwhile I once again commend President Vladimer Putin and the actions of the Russian Federation in the Crimea.
There is no greater source of comfort and strength for a people than the knowledge that when push comes to shove their government and their President will never abandon them to the vagaries of foreign invaders and to the whims and caprices of those that seek to supress, intimidate, humiliate, conquer and destroy them. How I wish that we had a Putin leading Nigeria today.